Category: Running

On being competitive

*Cross-posted from my Swim/Bike/Run blog.*

This morning, I went for a long run. I planned to run 15km, and the idea of the long run is to go fairly slowly. But I found that I didn’t want to go all that slowly. I felt so good! So I let myself run. I ran 15km in an hour and 20 minutes; not quite my half-marathon pace, but close. It is just the best feeling to be able to run and run and run. I decided to stay at my edge, where my breathing was very controlled and rhythmic, and to let myself stay at that pace as long as my breathing stayed sure. I find that in races, I’m running harder, and my breathing gets much heavier. I didn’t want to run that hard.

Today, I thought about how far I’ve come on this journey. I don’t always take time to appreciate it, because as soon as I’ve accomplished something, I’m pushing toward something else. I’ve decided to embrace that part of my personality. It’s just who I am. It’s how I write, too. I’m pleased with a story, and then give it some time and come back and discover that it could be improved, so I work even harder. The story may never be perfect, in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of it. Somehow I’ve found the same pleasure and balance in my running/swimming/cycling. I love doing it. And I love doing it even when I’m pushing myself to go faster and even when it’s hard and it hurts. I love doing it even when I wish I were capable of doing it better. Feeling like I could do better doesn’t discourage me, it has the opposite effect–it makes me want to try even harder. I might have a moment of feeling down (like I do when a story has been rejected, or I read a bad review), but the pain or disappointment only lasts a short while, and before I know it my spirit bounces back with even greater drive and intent.

I think in a funny way, I’m as motivated by failure as I am by success. I’m certainly not afraid of failure. Or of success.

So that’s how I’m thinking about my naturally competitive spirit, these days. I’m coming to terms with it. I’m embracing it. The bar for accomplishment is always of my own setting, and hopefully mostly in line with my actual abilities.

And there’s nothing like running and running and running. Nothing. I can hardly think of anything that brings me greater happiness. Best of all, when I got home from the run, the older kids were waiting and ready to go: we’d agreed to run one or two kilometres together at the end of my run. My son surprised me by running two; my daughter was ready to stop after one (she ran it a bit too fast and got a cramp). What joy to hear my son say: “This is really fun, Mom!”

What a lot to be thankful for.

Sunshine, sunshine

This is what we were working on last weekend, on the day before the duathlon. It’s hard to fathom, after a week of storms and rain and grey, that a day could be so sunny. I got to get my hands dirty, digging up the big beds in the backyard. It’s never too late to discover a love for gardening. We’re enriching the soil even more this year, and hoping to grow potatoes and kale despite the shade. In the front yard, Kevin’s put in strawberries and flowers, and we’re planning to add tomatoes and cucumbers this weekend. I will also have some herb pots around the side of the house where the sun falls strongest (when it falls at all, which currently feels a bit like never).

This post is a little gift to myself while I take a lunch break from other writing work. I’ve been longing to get on here all week to write about such exciting topics as: urban homesteading, and running with children (not quite the same as running with scissors). We’ve got big plans this year, for this brief and precious summer season (as always).

We are planning to take down a few trees to gain sunlight for more vegetable gardens, and possibly a greenhouse (advice, anyone?). We hope to dry and plane the wood for further projects. We’d like to build a trellis over the patio, for grapevines and prettiness. We have a treehouse plan in the works. And a chicken coop. Then there’s the porch project, with room for my teeny-tiny perfect office (architectural drawings already underway!).

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Earlier this week, I got to do something especially thrilling: I jogged with my kids. I have such wonderful memories of jogging with my dad, probably from about the age of seven. On longer runs, I would ride my bike. So last Sunday morning, in preparation for the duathlon (and because, after a long and tired week, I needed to remind myself that I knew what I was doing), I went for a short run around the neighbourhood. AppleApple was hanging around, bored, so I suggested she join me on her bicycle. Off we went on a 4km jaunt, me with a grin wider than a river. We talked about running, and I reminisced about my childhood jogs, and she said she’d like to try running with me, so Kevin and I decided to work it into this week’s schedule.

Wednesday morning I get up early to run with a friend; we’re usually home by 6:45 or so. This Wednesday, we laid out the two eldest kids’ running clothes, and Kevin set his alarm for 6:50, and the kids were set and ready to go by 7. I grabbed a drink and headed back out with my kids. The light was beautiful. I promised we’d go exactly 1 kilometre (which seemed like a long way to Albus). We chugged through that kilometre in about six minutes. AppleApple was keen for a second kilometre, so we said goodbye to Albus (red-faced, and proud of his run), and went around the loop again. She ran fast! We even sprinted at the finish (something I always like to do).

We plan to do the same tomorrow morning: the kids can join me for the first kilometre or two of my long run. And we hope to keep up the habit, twice a week, in the weeks to come.

It was such a good start to the day. Both kids were energized and in great moods. AppleApple said she felt like she was floating afterward. Me, too. It’s such a privilege, as a parent, to get to watch your children grow in skill and develop interests, and to encourage them to excel and to find courage and strength.

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If you’re following my triathlon journey on chatelaine.com, here’s a link to the latest story, on what it really costs (literally, in dollar figures) to train for and race in a triathlon.

Day of duathlon

Finishing the first leg, heading for the transition area. Both feet off the ground. Looking and feeling strong. Plus, the sun is shining!

Getting out on my bike. Right at the start. My form isn’t great here and I haven’t settled in (and down), but I look so darn happy. I like that. Let’s get this baby moving, uphill preferably!

Heading out for the final leg, post-bike ride. Discovering my leg muscles no longer know how to function. Fittingly, it had started to rain. Thinking: I can do this. Right? Well, I’m gonna.

The homestretch. The finish line is before me. I did have a moment of emotion here, realizing I was going to make it. That final leg was one of the harder things I’ve done in my life. It was like running on legs of water. I tried and tried, but throughout the four km, I just couldn’t pick up the pace.

Me and my friend Tricia! I am so glad she was with me. All of the planning and logistics, plus the ride there, set-up, the wait: I needed someone with me. It would have been awfully lonely and intimidating on my own. She went out of the first transition ahead of me and I never caught up, but it made me glad to see her jersey in front of me. She is an Ironwoman! This picture makes me teary. We’ve trained together over the winter, shared some early mornings, and today, we worked so hard and we made it across the finish line! (And thanks also to her husband who took these fantastic photos. My family didn’t quite make it to see me finish, though we all got to eat pork on a bun together afterward).

I’ll write more in-depth about the experience on my Swim/Bike/Run Mama blog. And now I can offically call myself Bike/Run Mama. That’s something.

Tip of the day

Awhile back, I wrote a post about “Conscious Discipline.” At the time, I copied a list of ten parenting principles onto a piece of green paper, which is still hanging in our kitchen. I think the list is terrific, and continue to refer to it from time to time.

Most recently, number eight jumped out at me: “Become the person you want your children to be.” I love that line.

I’m becoming a fairly fit adult, and someone who takes great pleasure in running, biking, yoga, swimming, etc. And my kids know how I feel about it. I talk about it as relaxing, or as an outlet for difficult emotions, and a way to make life, generally, happier. The kids have now been to three races and they’ve seen how happy running makes me feel. One might say, job well done, Mom. You’re becoming the person you want your children to be.

So.

Last week, Albus brought home a piece of paper from school, which he grabbed and tried to hide as soon as he saw me heading to check his backpack. What on earth? I thought. Is it a note from his teacher that he doesn’t want me to see? Is he in some kind of trouble? When he sheepishly showed me the piece of paper, it had information about the school’s Running Club. “You’re going to make me sign up,” he said, despondently. Of course, I said I wouldn’t force him to do it, but wouldn’t it be lovely, blah blah blah? And he said, no. He doesn’t want to waste his recess time on running club. AppleApple was equally disinterested. I was mildly disappointed.

But when my eye caught number 8 on my “Conscious Discipline” poster, I just had to laugh. Here I am modeling away, and my kids are, so far, oblivious to the hints; at least to the most obvious and particular of the hints. I do think it’s a good thing to become the person you want your children to be. But hopefully you’re doing it as much for yourself as for them. They will have to make their own choices along the way, and there is only so much a parent can/should push for. It’s just not a one-to-one ratio: do this, and receive that result. Life, and parenting, is much less predictable.

They’re going to break out of my mold, and be themselves, be the individuals they already are. Maybe the more subtle messages will get across; that’s what I hope. The messages about focus, working hard, and enjoying what you do. May it be so.

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In other news, please read my latest blog on Chatelaine.com. It’s about learning to swim last summer, with an unexpected teacher.

Mental Fitness

What?! I’m smiling?! This is nearing the end, and I was sure my face was one giant grimace. (Thanks for the photo, J & T!).

I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ll become someone who enters races and obsessively tries to beat my last best time. My personality-type just does not allow me to relax and finish at a comfortable pace. Instead, I try to run to my limits, calibrating throughout the race how much harder I can push myself. The physical part of the race almost seems insignificant. It’s the mental part that takes all the work and the toughness and the guts. I’m not sure I could have gone quite so fast in today’s 10km run had my friend T not been behind me pushing me all the way along. I knew she was tough — she’s done Ironman, and she was running today on an injured foot and therefore much less running training than me, but there she was pushing me on. Somehow knowing and trusting her mental toughness made me push even harder to find my own. Thank you, T!!!!! You’re an amazing competitor!

The first half of the race I ran a bit faster than originally planned and I felt a slightly more fatigued than I would have liked. But once half the race was done, I believed it was possible to keep pushing at least that hard for another 5km. Since it was a loop, I knew exactly what to expect. I took advantage of every downhill to pick up the pace, though I did use one downhill, at about 7.5km, to rest just slightly and try to restore my breathing (it didn’t help much). I was disconcerted by my breath — I sounded like a freight train coming through, and I’d hoped to sound much more relaxed. It really felt like a mental game that I was playing with myself. I would feel a flash of doubt — can I keep this pace going, or am I going to slam into a wall? And then I would find a reason to keep the pace going. I pictured a friend’s daughter, who is an amazing runner, and I thought, she wouldn’t slow the pace. That’s not how she wins races.

Not that I was going to win this race, you understand. It was a race against myself, essentially. I did have those times in my mind: 55 minutes was what I believed was within my means, and I wanted to do it in 50, at 5 minutes a km, which is fast for me. Honestly, I’m not sure how I made it that last kilometre. I couldn’t look directly ahead, oddly, but it seemed easier when I looked to the side, almost as if seeing the finish line wasn’t going to help me. I was in the zone. The zoned-out zone. I couldn’t even wave or smile at friends. Yet I found it within myself to sprint to the finish, a longer sprint than my body wanted to do, but why stop now?

The time on the clock was so exciting that I threw my hands into the air. Under fifty minutes. And my official chiptime clocked me in at 47:54. THRILLING. Honestly, I could not have run that race any faster. I threw everything into it. I finished 6th in my age class, and 16th among the women overall (there were 113 women who finished the race). That’s insanely better than I ever did in high school. I wish I’d recognized my own potential back then, and trained properly. But you know, even with all the training in the world, I’m not sure that back in high school I would have had the mental courage to run the way I ran today.

That’s what makes running so hard, I’m beginning to see. The training is important, of course, but to go fast, you have to be willing experience deep mental (and physical) discomfort. I’m pretty sure the runners who break records are willing to run to the very edges of their physical limits, and that’s simply not easy. I did my best today, but I’d have to train even harder to push the edge of my physical limit. Man. Part of me wants to do exactly that. But during the race, the thought I kept shoving back down was — this is WAY TOO HARD and you are NEVER GOING TO DO THIS TO YOURSELF AGAIN!

Sorry, self. I think I just might. The high of crossing the finish line, the high of knowing I pushed as hard as I could — well, it’s a bit like childbirth, really, though on a slightly reduced scale of pain and ecstasy. It’s not fun ’til it’s over, and then it’s right up there with the most amazing feeling you’ll ever have the privilege of experiencing.

[this entry is cross-posted from my triathlon training blog]

A Week in Suppers: 6

Monday supper. Grilled sausages (breakfast, because that’s all we had left in the freezer). Mashed potato casserole (lots of cheese). Squash and beets cooked whole in the crockpot. Swim lessons were cancelled, so I had more time than expected after school to prepare supper. Not that it mattered. I’d made the casserole the night before and popped it into the fridge. It needed about twenty minutes in the oven. Most of us liked it. I would make it again, as a way of using up leftover mashed potatoes. Anyone out there have ideas for leftover potatoes? I’m stuck in a cottage pie/shepherd’s pie/casserole groove. I mashed the squash with a touch of maple syrup, and butter; always good. That was the last “keeper” squash and it was a bit soft at the top. The beets were so far gone I wasn’t sure they could be ressurected, but they steamed up nicely, and despite a slight overall rubberiness, when sliced and salted, they were sweet and tasty. But I’m tired of beets. And no one else will eat them. Kevin had soccer. I swam in the morning. In between, the kids had school, and CJ stayed for the “lunch bunch” at his nursery school, giving me an extra half hour to work. Or to nap, as the case may be. Then we went shoe shopping (for him) and clothes shopping (for me). It felt very car-based and suburban. Especially when I filled up the truck with gas. Good grief!

Tuesday supper. Curried carrot soup. Quinoa. Squash and egg casserole (big-time 70s recipe). On the soup, which should have been good: the curry flavours needed to be stronger. A friend sent the suggestion when I complained about the blandness of last batch of carrot soup (thank God, this batch marked the end of our carrot invasion). She suggested grating in fresh ginger at the very end to add an extra pop. But I cooked everything together and was far too conservative with my spice amounts. I froze the leftovers for a quick meal another time: will bump up the spices upon reheating. I would call this meal not a flop, exactly, but tinged with disappointment; nobody but Kevin and me ate the squash casserole, which was almost dessert-like and delicious, but decidedly unattractive. I napped early, almost immediately after getting home from spin class, and had lots of energy all day, enough to make it to yoga before supper. AppleApple had an outdoor soccer practice, so Kevin had the unenviable job of packing up CJ, and driving to pick up Fooey (on a playdate), then AppleApple (on a playdate), then Albus (on a playdate), and then racing to the soccer field. We ended up eating supper together, minus AppleApple, whom I picked up after supper. She’d eaten a bunch of snacks on the way there, but was famished enough to have a helping of squash casserole. CJ insisted on riding along to the soccer field, but I made him promise to listen to the federal leaders’ debate on the way. It put him to sleep (gah!), but somehow we managed to transfer him from truck to bed, and then to fool him into thinking it was very very late at night when he woke restlessly around 8pm. He must have been tired. He slept for a full 12 hours. The rest of the family stayed up watching the whole debate, and talking about what we’d heard. Then Kevin went to hockey.

Wednesday supper. Crockpot lentil soup: the harira recipe on this blog, over rice. Nice. Could have used a side veg, but I had nothing convenient on hand. This was an oddball day. CJ stayed for lunch bunch again, and my friend J picked him up, and I got to go for a massage instead! Woot! It was my gift to myself post-race. I also met with my brother in the morning to talk about cookbooks. I was floating the idea–the underdeveloped notion, more like it–of making a cookbook loosely based on this “week in suppers” theme. Talking to him (he works for a company that publishes a lot of cookbooks) put it into perspective. The work involved would be staggering. It might not be the best use of my time. Unless I do it slowly, over time, gradually gathering recipes and photos until I have enough material to justify putting a book together–and then arranging for recipe testing, etc. Fiction-writing is a better use of my time: that’s what it confirmed for me. Other nice things happened today: I went for a morning run with my friend N; I ran a quick errand uptown all by myself; I ate a spinach and feta pastry for lunch; my friend M took the little girls to their music class so I didn’t have to leave the house; and Kevin came home early so I could go to yoga. I took Albus to his piano lesson and read Annabel, by Kathleen Winter, a book I liked so much–loved might be the word for it–that I think I will blog about it soon.

Thursday supper. Beans and rice, with quesedillas and red cabbage salad. This entire week had flop written all over it. I don’t know how I managed it, since beans are my specialty, but somehow, when suppertime arrived, these were still hard in the pot and required a full hour of extra cooking time. So I fired up the cast-iron skillet and made a pile of quesedillas using corn tortillas (like a Latin American grilled cheese sandwich). Albus ate about six. AppleApple was at a birthday party, from which Kevin picked her up early to go to another soccer practice. The little kids played outside, and no one complained (too much) about being hungry. We ate late, when the beans finally softened. I forgot to take a photo. Instead, here’s AppleApple from another afternoon this week: yay! We have new space to play, now: it’s called Outside! (Or we did last week, before it decided to snow again). And we have big plans for backyard improvements (though I think we’ll pass on the water slide from Albus’s bedroom window down to a trampoline, as was brainstormed during Saturday night’s supper). Kevin and I had kundalini yoga, and then I put on my dancing shoes, and drove to nearby Guelph with two friends to go dancing. My siblings’ band was playing a show. Here’s a link to their latest video. If you ever get a chance to see Kidstreet play live, go go go! They throw down an instant dance party. That was a late night, especially considering my day had started at 5:15–to go swimming. But that’s okay. I told Kevin just before I ran the half that this coming week would be my party week.

Friday supper. Finally, success!!! I made miso soup and pad thai. Both were fabulous. The pad thai recipe was different from the usual ones involving ketchup: the sauce was 1/4 cup of fish sauce, 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, and a whole lot of sugar. I had some frozen cilantro that I added to the mix. The miso soup is so good and so simple that I made it again for the kids’ lunch the next day: it’s basically instant soup, if you have the ingredients on hand (miso paste, seaweed, and tofu). I was thrilled to have made a meal that everyone loved. AppleApple was at a playdate after school and arrived home toward the end of the meal. My late night/early morning combo (plus a morning run) caught up with me around 7pm, so Kevin did the dishes while I crashed out on the couch for about an hour and a half (!!!). Woke in time to tuck kids in, then we flopped and watched tv: Parks and Rec, and 30 Rock, and we tried out Modern Family, which I liked more than I’d expected to. Albus tried to stay up too. “What are you up to?” I asked him, when I discovered him hanging around the kitchen past his bedtime. “I’m observing,” he said.

Saturday supper. Take-out Indian from our favourite spot in town: Masala Bay! Kevin worked today, and I was tired. I managed to bake bread and granola, and to take the kids to the little park in a rainstorm, and to arrange transport for AppleApple, who has both Singer’s Theatre in the morning, and soccer practice in the afternoon (I asked her yesterday, picking her up from her FOURTH practice of the week, whether she feels she’s doing too much, to which she replied, “No!!!” She loves soccer. She likes being busy. She had difficulty imagining that a parent could push a child to do something the child wouldn’t want to do, anyway.) I had zero inspiration for supper. What a treat to order food that would have taken me an inordinate amount of effort to prepare. Samosas, pakoras, nan, black lentils in cream and butter, a fiery eggplant dish, butter chicken, chicken in chili and coriander. We feasted. We stayed at the table for over an hour, talking and laughing. CJ is still a bit young to participate fully, and he does end up interrupting and yelling sometimes, or dropping his fork to get attention, but I am otherwise relishing the stage that our family is at, and how much pleasure we get just from spending time together around the table. That evening Kevin and I got to party some more, to celebrate my friend J’s graduation from midwifery school. More dancing, and free drinks. Another late night.

Sunday supper. Leftovers and scrambled eggs. There were enough Indian leftovers for an entire second supper, to which AppleApple added scrambled eggs made-to-order. I’ve been giving the older kids more freedom in the kitchen, and they spent a lot of time last week making tea (after getting permission to use the stove). AppleApple was keen to learn how to make scrambled eggs, envisioning herself rising early to cook herself breakfast (which would be, frankly, awesome). It was a fairly tricky process, but by the end, she made a batch without anyone watching over her shoulder. The gas stove makes it feel more dangerous, but it’s time for the kids to find real independence in the kitchen. And it’s time for me to ease up and let them. (On a side note: CJ agreed to be three this week: because he wanted to take a turn at cooking, and I told him that it starts when you turn four. “And you’re still two, so that’s a long way to go.” He considered his options briefly, and told me, “I’m three now.”) We’ve noticed some improvements in responsibility, and I think it’s more to do with my own expectations than with their initiative (or lack thereof). Tidying the house yesterday was so much easier with everyone responsible for their own spaces, and helping out overall: they helped because they were expected to help, and they got that. But I’m a bit of a control freak in the kitchen (just ask Kevin), so I’m reminding myself to back off and make space for everyone else to help out here, too. No exercise yesterday or today. Yup, it was a party week. We ended the day with homework completed, piano practiced, and a planning meeting over a pot of tea: always a good entry into the new week ahead.

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